How did the 1971 Topps Greatest Moments test set cause problems for Fleer back in late 1971 / early 1972?
Thanks to The Troy Files, we've got the scoop from an interview done with Bob (R.G.) Laughlin that appeared in Baseball Card Collector in December 1971 (click on the article to see a larger view) :
According to a letter from Bob Laughlin dated September 8, 1971 to the author of the article, he was working with Fleer on a "set of great baseball feats over the years....unless some other hitch occurs", but in a follow up phone conversation, the author says "Topps has run a test set of 'baseball Greats' using actual photographs this fall. This may mean no Fleer's set for '72 as mentioned in his letter."
The test set being referred to is the 1971 Topps Greatest Moments set which featured 55 cards of current players which featured a small color head shot and a larger B&W action photo on the front (with the same black borders as the regular 1971 set)
and a headline on the back from the team's local newspaper describing the player's achievement:
Here is a look at the entire sheet in uncut proof sheet form:
This is a very attractive set, and one that is a challenge to collect as 1) its a test issue and 2)the cards on the sheet on the right are much harder to find than the cards on the left. The cards on the left sheet are double prints, and are the cards more commonly found.
Going back to the interview, there are some great insights provided by Bob about the situation at Fleer at the time.
- For the Fleer 1970 World Series set, Bob had to make changes to artwork from his original B&W set to remove any active players since Topps had them all under contract. That explains why this card
became this card
- For ex-players depicted in Bob's B&W set, Bob couldn't use them either unless he got their agreement, but Fleer would not pay them anything, so as Bob says, "It was rough" trying to get anyone's approval to appear in the set.
- He indicates only 300 B&W World Series sets were produced, as we had seen him mention in his ads a few years later
- Bob says that he had submitted "about a dozen ideas to Fleer, but they only do what they want to."
- One of the ideas Bob suggested was a Hall of Fame set, but since half of the players in the set were still alive, "the thought of paying these guys anything was too much for Fleer."
- According to Bob, "Its like pulling teeth working with Fleer." He also describes Fleer as being "too timid" and that they "operate at a 1908 pace". Bob certainly wasn't pulling any punches which is interesting because he was still under contract with them at the time as the article concludes with the comment that Bob's contract was going to run out with Fleer at the end of 1971 and he wasn't sure if he was going to renew it.
While I don't have any documentation showing whether or not Bob let his contract run out with Fleer at the end of 1971, Fleer did not issue any sets with Bob's work in 1972.
In the meantime, for 1972, Fleer once again issued Quiz Cards with their cloth patch stickers:
The set that Bob had been working on for Fleer did come out in 1972, but Fleer did not release it. Instead, it looks like Bob printed it on his own according to this ad:
In the ad, Bob mentions the issue with Fleer deciding not to proceed with the set because of the Topps Greatest Moments set.
The cards can be found in two different variations:
1) With a red border and the player depicted in black and white:
2) With a blue border and flesh tones:
So thanks to the 1971 Topps Greatest Moments set, Fleer passed on Bob's set which forced Bob to print it himself, and left Fleer recycling the quiz card concept for a fourth straight year (albeit in a different design).
Even though Fleer decided against using Bob's set in 1972, in 1973 Fleer teamed up with Bob on the Famous Feats set that was included with their annual cloth patches set. Note that the same artwork was used for the Hack Wilson card, so I'm assuming that some other of these 1973 cards probably use the same artwork as well:
I'm guessing Fleer probably decided by 1973 that Bob's set really wasn't competing against the Topps set since 1) the Topps set had used current players and Bob was using retired players, and 2) the Topps set had not been distributed nationally, so Fleer decided to go with a very similar set to Bob's 1972 set in 1973.
In the next installment of The Troy Files, we'll get an update from Bob Laughlin to see how the situation between Fleer and Topps was faring a few years later. Thanks as always to Troy for this wonderful material.
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